The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall, anti-Semitism, and the “Arab street”

“He Who is Compassionate to the Cruel Will Ultimately Become Cruel to the Compassionate.” – Biblical Midrash

If there was a professional license for journalists with codified moral standards similar to physicians’ Hippocratic Oath, one which instructs those engaged in the polemical arts to, at the very least, do no harm, Simon Tisdall would have had his revoked the day he penned a passionate apologia for Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir – in a diatribe attacking (as racist and Islamophobic) those in the West who dared to hold Bashir accountable for the atrocities committed against the non-Arab black population in Darfur.

Such a moral inversion, of course, is nothing new, and indeed informs much of the ideological orientation of the Guardian Left.

But, Tisdall’s post-Colonial politics must be at least broadly understood to properly contextualize his framing of the Egyptian political upheaval, and the broader policy implications for the U.S. and the West –Out of Egyptian Protests a new Obama doctrine is born“, CiF, Feb. 11th.

In Obama’s support for Egyptian protesters, and his abandonment of Hosni Mubarak, Tisdall applauds what he sees as the end of a policy where “America has largely turned a blind eye to repression in pursuit of wider security…interests” – suggesting, I suppose, that there are nations in world who don’t act out of concern for their own national security, and failing to acknowledge that the political divide in the Middle East is rarely between dictators and democrats, but between secular autocrats and Islamic extremists.

Turning to Israel, Tisdall notes:

“Israeli leaders, too, are alarmed. They never quite trusted Obama. And repression of the Arab masses by Arab autocrats suited them quite well for, by and large, the Arab street has always been more hostile to Israel than the Arab elites.”

I ask that you read this passage a couple of times to really let the malice sink in.

The repression of the “Arab masses”, we are informed, is a desired outcome for Israeli leaders when, of course, what Israeli leaders are concerned about, as even the most casual observer must surely understand, is the fate of the peace treaty with Egypt, and the possibility that yet another extremist movement dedicated to their destruction will arise – adding another border state governed by a regime hostile to its very existence.  The mind spins at the capacity of those predisposed towards such hostility to frame even Israel’s desire to maintain peace with its neighbors in a negative light.

But, the last passage of the above quote, where we are instructed that the “Arab street” is more hostile to Israel than the ruling elite, is where the intellectual tick of his illiberal anti-Imperialism is mostly clearly revealed.  The “Arab street” he refers to has an overwhelming and unfiltered antipathy towards Jews (no, not just Israelis) that’s quite, let’s say, unenlightened. A Pew Global Research Poll in 2010 showed that anti-Semitism is nearly universal across the Middle East – with a staggering 97% of Jordanians, 97% of Palestinians, and 95% of Egyptians (for instance) openly expressing animosity towards Jews.  Tisdall’s authentic Arab street is more reactionary, it seems, in its level of tolerance towards the Jewish minority than its slightly more pragmatic despotic leaders.

But, saving the worse for last, Tisdall – clearly relishing the role of nurturing such “authentic” Arab enmity towards Israel – casually takes aim at the Jewish state’s clear advantage in the region in every measurable political and social category, by framing the nation as merely one which “hitherto” could “pose as the region’s only real democracy”, before warning that even this supposed advantage “is slipping.”

And, here is Tisdall’s moral confusion expressed is in its most acute form.  As with any rigid ideology, inconvenient political realities – ones which threaten the edifice you strive constantly to maintain – are merely rhetorical challenges to be dealt with.  Israel’s parliamentary democracy, free press, independent judiciary, and progressive mores concerning sexual and religious minorities which are on par with, and sometimes exceed, that of other Western democracies, are, as stubborn democratic parts, quite resistant to his assault. But, as a broader amorphous whole Israel’s democracy can be contorted to suit the abstraction that the Jewish nation-state has become for the Guardian Left.

Tisdall’s enmity towards Israel, like his romanticism of the mythical Arab street – as with all bigotries – robs its object of its uniqueness, its particularism, its fierce and undeniable reality.

His soft bigotry which denies moral agency to malevolent extremists is ultimately informed by the same intellectual currents which allows him to deny liberal democracies their moral advantage – a malady on full display in Tisdall’s fantastical musings on heroism and villainy in the Middle East.

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